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Sneaky Peak – NetApp Plug-in

I got a sneaky peak at NetApp’s new plug-in to vCenter dubbed the NetApp RCU 2.1.

This afternoon (well my evening actually) I got a sneaky peak at NetApp’s new plug-in to vCenter dubbed the NetApp RCU 2.1. I was joined in the web by Scott Lowe, and by Eric Forgette, the key architect/developer for RCU – in case you don’t know RCU stands for Rapid Cloning Utility. Put simply, the RCU leverages the functionality of a NetApp array to quickly duplicate VMs, with the strongest usage case being VDI of course. NetApp has been doing this sometime – and the early videos of them creating numerous VMs for VDI via script have gone down in youtube history… Anyway, that functionality of cloning is available to all NetApp customers free of charge, without the need to learn any fancy scripting. Let me give you a walking tour of the new RCU. Full details will be available when it is officially launched at VMworld this year.


Firstly, the RCU automates the duplication process as can be seen from this image:

Here you can see you can easily call up N number of clones, and set their naming convention (Win2K3-NN). The RCU integrates with your Guest Customization Settings – and so will sysprep the VMs as it clones them. If you run the new RCU on vSphere4, it will leverage the new vStorage APIs, so the ESX hosts takes NO load during the provisioning process – it merely sends instructions to the NetApp box to say go ahead and duplicate these VMs for me. All the load is on the NetApp box not on your ESX host. You can also see that the RCU allows these VMs to be advertised either to VMware’s View product or Citrix’s Xen Desktop.

During this provisioning process – you can also provision new storage for the VMs, and set some specific NetApp parameters like enabling thin-provisioning or auto-grow…

Toward the end of the RCU process you can configure how the virtual desktop will be presented to the end-users using desktop pools within VMware View.

In my discussions with NetApp they came across as quite neutral on what is the best method for deploying VMs for VDI. In some cases VMware Views own “linked clones” method might be more suitable than the RCU especially for desktops that have a very short life span, whereas NetApps RCU might pay more dividends for long-term virtual desktops where folks return to the same desktop time and time again. So it really does seem to depend on your circumstances and what you are trying to achieve. Interestingly, NetApp’s own R&D indicates that customers prefer to have BOTH methods at their finger tips – strategically using whatever method suits their purposes for the given scenario…

NetApp’s integration with VMware does begin and end with a Rapid Cloning feature – although for the moment the plug-ins main functionality is dominated by that very issue. There are other interesting add-ons in the new plug-in. For instance it now adds a right click functionality to your NetApp NFS mount points as the screen grab below shows:

So the new RCU allows you to handle NetApps de-duplication features, resize volumes and destroy volumes (yes, that’s a little scary it literally shutdowns the VMs on the volume, unregisters them from ESX hosts and blows the storage away!). By far my favorite was the resize option. It’s a right-click, increase the size.

As the right-click menu shows  - you can handle some deduplication settings here as well.

And it doesn’t stop there NetApp are exposing to the vSphere client advanced settings in the shape of what they are calling the Virtual Storage Console…

Verdict: All in all it looks like VMware’s Plug-in/vStorage/vNework/vWhatEver strategy is paying some early dividends. With various vendors like NetApp, EMC, Cisco and others – falling over themselves to give VMware guys more visibility and control over the physical components of the virtual infrastructure right-from-within the vCenter client. Of course their will be much talks of rights & privileges here, the VMware guy is getting a lot of control over the storage – but heck, that is increasing the case – with many an admin being lumbered not with VM/VMware management – but storage & network as well! Additionally, there will be much talk of vCenter becoming the single-pane-of-glass window on your infrastructure – by partnering/collaborating with other companies – they’ve demonstrated what's possible. Expect more of this in the future….

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